Lois Wilson, the Woman Behind Al-Anon

Posted on April 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

“When Love is Not Enough,” the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about Lois Wilson, the wife of the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, will premiere this weekend starring Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper. Lois Wilson recognized that the friends and families of alcoholics needed a place to share their stories and find support. She had learned that those who love alcoholics could not change them but that they could find their own peace. And so she and helped to found the Al-Anon Family Groups. From the initial 48 who responded to her in 1951, it grew to over 29,000 groups worldwide and a membership of over 387,000, reaching out with a blog, podcasts, publications, and the core of their program, their in-person meetings, held all over the world. “In Al-Anon and Alateen, members share their own experience, strength, and hope with each other. You will meet others who share your feelings and frustrations, if not your exact situation. We come together to learn a better way of life, to find happiness whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.”

The motto is, “To help them, you have to help yourself first.” They tell their members, “It is estimated that each alcoholic affects the lives of at least four other people… alcoholism is truly a family disease. No matter what relationship you have with an alcoholic, whether they are still drinking or not, all who have been affected by someone else’s drinking can find solutions that lead to serenity in the Al-Anon/Alateen fellowship.”

Here Bill and Lois Wilson tell their story.

“I believe that people are good if you give them half a chance and that good is more powerful than evil.

The world seems to me excruciatingly, almost painfully beautiful at times, and the goodness and kindness of people often exceed that which even I expect.”

– Lois Burnham Wilson

Related Tags:


Television The Real Story

10 Replies to “Lois Wilson, the Woman Behind Al-Anon”

  1. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t do anything after this film but sit in a well of deep feeling. Wow. Thank you Hall of Fame. You got it. You really got it. I lived it. And you told it.

  2. I just cried and cried and thanked God for His continued care of myself and my loved one. It is a special bond between Al-Anon members. Although we may not know one another we love each other because we are connected through tribulation and hope. This movie is good…really good. Beauty from ashes. Thank You Hallmark for offering the world the gift of Al-Anon.

  3. Thank you so much, Anne and Judy for watching this inspiring film and letting us know how much it meant to you. Your comments are beautifully expressed and much appreciated.

  4. As a recovered alcoholic and student of AA history, I found myself shaking my head in some amusement as I watched this movie. In addition to the overall melodramatic tone, the story left out several critical facts, among them: (1) Bill W. was an absolutely notorious womanizer, not only while drinking but also after he got sober, even going so far as to leave 10% of his Big Book royalties to his favorite mistress, Helen W.; (2) the writing of the Big Book was a collaboration, and several chapters were not written by Bill W., although he alone got royalties; (3) the chapter in the BB entitled “To Wives”, which was presented as having been written by Lois, was actually written by Bill, who apparently did not believe that she could do it justice–this infuriated Lois (and one can only imagine her thoughts about Bill’s bequest to his mistress).
    To my mind, leaving those things out turned this story into nothing more than Hallmark’s usual pablum. I would vastly have preferred the truth, which is that Lois never stopped putting up with an incredible degree of selfishness and arrogance from Bill, because he cheated on her for their entire marriage.
    The one thing I did like about the movie was that it presented Al-Anon for the most part as what Al-Anon actually is: a 12 step program where members work exactly the same steps as AA. Many people, including mental health professionals, mistakenly believe that Al-Anon exists to help family members understand what the alcoholic is going through, or to help him or her quit drinking, when nothing could be further from the truth. The scenes in which Lois “makes amends” (step 9) to her family and friends shows this clearly.

  5. Thanks very much, Mona Lisa. The movie is clearly overly romanticized (primarily leaving out Bill W’s womanizing and Lois’ willingness to put up with it). I do not think it serves anyone’s interests to “protect” the audience from the truth. Indeed, it can be liberating to portray heroes as the flawed people they were and the compromises they made, just like the rest of us.

  6. Mona lisa: thanks Lois taking credit for starting the Family Group is a flat out lie. The Family Group was started by Al Marinos wife in 1940 or 41. when Bill and Lois went to Ca. Ceal Marino ( not sure of the spelling). Invited Bill and Lois to a lunchon and that is where she got the Idea for Al Anon. Also Bill force her to start Al Anon she did not want to. And Susan smith was having the women come in to her kitchen from almost the very start. Suan nor Dr. Bob have been given credit for much of what they did. As with AA many lies have been covered up in Al Anon. Bill did steal the copywrite to the big Book and all the money that the hundred men corporation paid him for wrighting the big book. As fare as wrighting To Wives that was writeh by Joe Worth. And Joe also wrote Bill’s story. to much credit has been given to Bill and Lois for things they did not do.

  7. Sorry in my last post the name should have be Anne Smith not Susan.
    I have come across a book by Mitchell K. with letters from Henrietta D. wife of AA. number 3. And she talks about her first meeting with Anne Smith Friday, June 28,1935. Henrietta also describes what was probably the first Al Anon meeting in the world. She wrote: “In the early part of 1936, Anne organized a ‘Women’s Group’ for wives of alcoholics, whereby in her loving way, she tried to teach us patience, love and unselfishness. Anne made it very plain to me from the begging, that she wanted no credit for herself.

  8. Nell I did not say that Al Anon did not work. I am saying Lois started Al Anon in New York but it was well established long before she stated a meeting in 1951. The family group was started in 1940 in LA. California and Anne Smith got the women’s meeting started in early 1936. If you go by the premise that because she changed the name from the family group which was the name for it in 1940. Then when Clarence Snider broke off from the Oxford group in Akron,Ohio against Bill and Dr. Bob’s objections. And started the first meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. Calling it AA the first time the AA was used in a group of Alcoholics Anonymous. Then Clarence Snider started the first AA meeting. AA and Al Anon had many secrets.

    1. Thank you for the additional information, Don, much appreciated. I did not mean to suggest that you said it did not work. I was just commenting that no matter how it got started, it has been a great help to many families and a model for many other programs.

Comments are closed.

THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik